VIEW FROM THE HILL- It’s time to care about our kids’ education as we do sports

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN PAUL PENNER
A new year represents a clean slate, a chance to start afresh. It is an opportunity to reclaim lost territory, to dream once again.

I have a dream that as a nation and people, we would place a higher value on the education of our children than we do now.

We live in an upside-down world where sports unfairly consumes the creative energies of not only our youth, but society as well. In fact, as a nation, we place a higher value on a student athlete’s physical prowess over his or her intellectual potential.

Think about it. Obsession with sports starts at a young age these days. For the young children, there is Jam basketball. As the kiddies increase in age, there is a league for them. Then there’s basketball camp and city leagues in the off-season.

In short, we have the best non-paid farm-team system for professional sports in the world. And we have mommy and daddy to thank for bankrolling the entire enterprise with fees, donations, taxes and tuition.

Let’s not forget the fans as well as television junkies, too.

Universities and alumni are more than willing to pay successful college coaches and assistants astronomical salaries so they can produce a winning team.

In addition, all post-secondary educational systems must submit to unreasonable constraints in restricted class time, money and other resources in order to bring home the big trophy.

Dare we say the time has come for a change in perspective?

In the Dec. 7 issue of Bloomberg.com, NCAA President Myles Brand said the astronomical, annual increases in coaches’ compensation were unsustainable.

Imagine the outcome if all educational systems were driven with the same financial and physical energy as sports. Imagine the potential advances in genetics and improved health-care systems if people supported education with the same dedication as die-hard football fans on a cold winter day.

Those speaking against this dream might say we have a first-rate educational system with a high percentage of successful graduates. In part, they would be correct. However, the numbers tell a different story from a different perspective.

Not long ago, a respected educator noted the entire U.S. educational system graduates about 75,000 engineering students each year. He added, “In contrast, India graduates 750,000 engineering students each year.”

Think about it. Which country is fulfilling its dream for the future through education?

At the risk of stating the obvious, India wins in a landslide. In addition, India may be known for innovation and technological advancements in the future as well.

“But can they punt, pass or kick the ball through the uprights and bring home the championship trophy?”

When the years turn into decades and people fade into oblivion, will it really matter who won the national championship in 2005?

No, not much. But, it will matter a great deal if our nation continues the slide into educational oblivion.

Consider this perspective, if you will. A quiet, worldwide revolution is taking place in agriculture through advancements in improved genetics and other research. Genome sequencing is the growth industry within agricultural research.

According to knowledgeable sources, corn and soybean genomes contain about 3 billion sequences, roughly the same as a human being. Wheat, however, contains five times more sequences as corn or beans.

Current research is focused on wheat traits that produce less gluten when ground into flour. It is a wonderful benefit for people who are sensitive to gluten in food products. In addition, another area of research will enhance wheat’s contribution to heart health.

Imagine if further scientific research of wheat’s DNA would discover genetic traits that could combat disease, or better yet, increase our lifespan by 50 years.

Imagine the same opportunity, but due to a lack of funding at all levels of education and fewer qualified researchers, these potential benefits are but dreams in a hopeless world.

“But can you dunk and hit nothing but net?”

I’d rather make a slam dunk or hit nothing but net with a cure for Parkinson’s or Ollier’s Syndrome for one simple reason. I know two people who live with these diseases.

And if it means I must sacrifice something to win that game and improve the quality of life for them or someone else, I’ll choose to improve education over sports in the blink of an eye.

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